Review by Cavan Reagan, JUICE
The Garden calls itself Iowa's gay nightclub, and for good reason. It's the biggest, and in a market that's short on gay clubs, that pretty much makes it the best.
With four bars, a patio, a big dance floor and larger-than-life drag shows, the Garden offers a great deal more than its small entrance lets on. If it weren't for the music booming out over S.E. Fourth Street, the place would be easy to miss.
On busy nights, The Garden can pack in more than 450 people (or more than 600 when it's warm enough for the patio to be open). Show up for one of the drag shows (they start around 11:30 on Fridays and Saturdays), then wander onto the dance floor afterwards. With a wall of speakers, the music is sure to make even your forehead vibrate. Luckily, there are places to mingle and drink around the dance floor if it all becomes too much.
New co-owners Cy Stewart and Tony Dika took over the club earlier this year. But the flavor of the place is still intact.
"We've done some minor remodeling, some painting, the dance platform, minor things like that," Stewart said.
One thing missing from the dance floor now is the shower.
"We replaced it with a dance platform," Stewart said. "We weren't putting someone in it all the time and it was just kind of an eyesore if no one was in it."
This isn't the only place in town for a drag show, but it has some of Des Moines' most well-known performers, such as Champagne Showers and Alicia Starr. "We have four cast members, and we rotate three of them in (each show)," Stewart said. A recent show brought out performances as Tina Turner and Faith Hill.
The club is straight-friendly. Stewart estimates an average night's crowd is 30 percent straight, with occasional appearances of bachelorette parties.
The Garden also hosts parties, including some with pretty racy themes, like stripping down to your underwear.
"We don't have a plan right now to have another foam party," Stewart said. "We had a Studio 54 party and a blacklight party."